In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. Medical doctor Robert Rountree and herbalist Daniel Gagnon respond for this issue.
Are there any herbal remedies for cellulite?
De Queen, Arkansas
Despite the fact that cellulite commonly affects millions of women worldwide, you won’t find much about the topic in American medical textbooks, perhaps because it’s considered to be a cosmetic disorder and not a true disease.
First described by French doctors, cellulite is a disruption in the layer of fat cells just underneath the skin. These cells are normally held together in neat chambers of connective tissue, but when they become excessively large, they stretch the chambers out. This creates a dimple effect, which is often referred to as the “mattress phenomenon.”
The best overall solution is to decrease total body fat by losing weight if you need to. Although some herbalists utilize “thermogenic” herbs such as ma huang (Ephedra sinica, or Chinese ephedra) to force an increase in fat burning, there can be significant side effects from this approach, including increased blood pressure, anxiety, and insomnia. Several years back, announcements were made in the press that a topical preparation of theophylline (a chemical extracted from coffee) could dramatically reduce cellulite; the excitement has since died down, presumably due to its lack of effectiveness.
In contrast, gotu kola (Centella asiatica) has been shown in several published studies to be quite effective for reducing cellulite by strengthening defective connective tissue. I recommend taking up to 120 mg daily of an extract standardized to contain 40 percent asiaticoside. For additional benefits, try adding 150 mg daily of proanthocyanidin (PCO) extracted from grapeseed or pine bark. PCOs are a class of bioflavonoids extracted from a variety of plants, including pine bark, lemon tree bark, grape seeds, grape skins, and cranberries.
Some of the most important herbs used to treat cellulite include seaweeds such as dulse (Rhodymenia palmetta) and kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana). Other herbs include fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale), meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), ivy (Hedera helix), and gotu kola. Seaweed provides the body with iodine, which supports the thyroid gland; proper thyroid function helps maintain a normal body weight and is essential in the prevention and treatment of cellulite. Fenugreek and dandelion leaf are diuretics, meaning that they help the body eliminate toxins and excess fluids that can contribute to cellulite problems. Meadowsweet, in combination with other herbs, is also reputed to stimulate the eradication of cellulite. Combine these four herbs in equal amounts and use the mixture as a tea. Use 1 tablespoon of the mixture per cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for a half-hour. Drink one cup three times a day.
For external use, herbalists use ivy to stimulate circulation and help break up cellulite. Gotu kola is another herb that has been studied for its cellulite-diminishing properties. Ivy and gotu kola appear to enhance the connective tissue structure, specifically by acting directly on collagen-producing cells called fibroblasts, thus reducing sclerosis (abnormal hardening) of tissues. Massaging the cellulite-prone area of the body with creams containing gotu kola and/or ivy yields good results.
I had a malignant brain tumor in 1994 that totally destroyed my pituitary gland. I’m now on many medications, including hormone replacement and steroids. I have gained a lot of weight from the chemotherapy and steroids.
Will herbs that help stimulate weight loss or extra energy help me, even without my pituitary gland?
My suspicion is that much of your weight gain is caused by fluid retention brought on by the steroids. Rather than using herbs to stimulate weight loss, I would try a short course of gentle herbal diuretics to help eliminate that excess fluid. My first choice is dried dandelion root, given in a dose of 2 capsules four times daily. Commercial formulas sometimes combine dandelion with celery seed (Apium graveolens); parsley leaf, root, or seed (Petroselinum crispum); or nettles (Urtica dioica). Be sure to eat fruits and vegetables rich in potassium, such as bananas and oranges, because diuretics can stimulate loss of this mineral.
For restoring your overall health, I suggest taking Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). This adaptogenic herb is helpful in many ways. It improves energy and stamina, enhances the ability to respond to stress, and regulates blood sugar. There are even some studies that show immune-boosting and anticancer effects. A wide variety of preparations are available; I prefer the solid concentrated (20:1) extract, standardized for eleutheroside E, in a dose of 200 to 300 mg daily taken for two to three months. I then recommend taking a break for a few weeks before starting another round of the herb.
Licorice soothes mucous membranes and has a direct effect on ulcers
—Robert Rountree, M.D.
Even without a pituitary gland, you can lose weight and increase your energy. I suggest regular exercise to my clients when they want to lose weight or simply want extra energy. The benefits from exercise come in part from increasing the number of mitochondria in the cells; mitochondria are organelles inside cells that behave like tiny power plants, burning calories and increasing overall energy levels.
Another important aspect to losing weight is eating foods that are low in fat and provide plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. I suggest that you avoid foods labeled as “fat-free” or “diet.” Many of these foods are aimed at fooling the body into thinking it has ingested fats or sugars without actually supplying them. But the body is not easily fooled and, as a result, you will crave these types of foods even more.
You should also take a good multivitamin and multimineral supplement. Taking herbs is, in my opinion, the least effective way to lose weight or provide energy longterm. The herb ephedra provides a short-term and temporary boost in energy and weight loss, but be sure to consult with a health-care practitioner before taking it if you’re pregnant, nursing, taking a prescription drug, or if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, or prostate problems. Long-term, lasting results require lifestyle changes.
I am looking for a natural way to cure stomach ulcers. I’ve been on Zantac and Tagamet for more than ten years. I’ve tried special diets with no sugar or yeast, and I did the cabbage diet for ten days. My stomach pain is triggered more by stress than diet.
The crucial issue here is whether your stomach pain is coming from an ulcer or some other condition, such as excess stomach acid. Most researchers believe that stomach ulcers result from bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. This infection must be treated or the ulcer will recur, even if you take antacids for years on end.
Although antibiotics are the usual treatment, there are some “natural” alternatives. Freeze-dried bovine colostrum (milk taken from the cow immediately after the birth of a calf) has been shown in a published study to eliminate H. pylori. Many commerical colostrum products are available; ask at your local health-food store. I usually give 2 to 3 teaspoons daily in combination with a supplement of Lactobacillus acidophilus, a beneficial bacteria normally found in the digestive tract. In addition, berberine—an alkaloid extracted from goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) or Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium)—has potent antibiotic effects. A typical dose is 3 droppersful daily of the tincture. Both the colostrum and berberine can be given together and should be taken for at least six weeks for best results.
Cabbage juice is a source of L-glutamine which can be useful for healing inflamed intestinal tissue. However, this does not occur overnight; you would need to drink several 8-ounce glasses a day for at least a month, and at least 1 glass a day for one or two months thereafter. A more potent, and potentially more palatable, alternative is to take L-glutamine powder in a dose of 5 to 15 g daily.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) extract also would be useful; it soothes mucous membranes and has a direct healing effect on ulcers. Unfortunately, a compound in whole licorice can raise blood pressure in susceptible individuals. This can be avoided by taking the deglycyrrhizinated extract (DGL). A typical dose is 2 tablets chewed thoroughly four times daily between meals or immediately after the onset of symptoms.
For between-meal burning sensations try marshmallow or slippery elm
—Daniel Gagnon, herbalist
H. pylori are the bacteria that have been identified as the culprits behind stomach ulcers. Currently, the orthodox medical treatment is to administer a round of antibiotics. In herbal medicine, barberry (Berberis vulgaris) has been used for centuries as one of the most effective treatments for stomach ulcers. Research shows that berberine, one of the active constituents of barberry, is effective against a host of bacteria. Simmer half an ounce of the root in 1 pint of water for twenty minutes. Take 4 ounces of the tea ten to fifteen minutes before meals.
To deal with any burning sensation between meals, use chamomile (Matricaria recutita), marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), or slippery elm (Ulmus rubra). Add 1 teaspoon of any of these loose herbs to a cup of hot, but not boiling, water to make a tea. Drink up to four cups a day as needed.
Surprisingly, one of the most effective agents against stomach ulcers is plain water. An excellent book on the subject is Your Body’s Many Cries for Water (Global Health Solutions, 1995) by Dr. F. Batmanghelidj. One of the premises of the book is that many health problems occur when we are in a state of semi-dehydration. Drinking 64 ounces of water a day can help resolve problems such as ulcers, lower back pain, and asthma.
Robert Rountree, M.D., is a physician at the Helios Health Center, coauthor of Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child (Avery, 1994), and an advisory board member for the Herb Research Foundation.
Daniel Gagnon is a medical herbalist who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild, former chairman of the American Herbal Products Association, and owner of Herbs, Etc., a manufacturer of liquid herbal extracts.
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